Media days munich: golden mattresses

The founder of Ebay has taken NSA investigator Glenn Greenwald, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos previously the "Washington Post". Why?

Also taz boss Ines Pohl is there: Medientage in Munich. Image: dpa

For U.S. media analyst Ken Doctor, his compatriot Jeff Bezos is the "king of selling stuff." Bezos, the founder of online retailer Amazon, recently acquired the glorious Washington Post for $250 million. A year earlier, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes had already bought the Washington political magazine The New Republic. Chris Hughes was 28 years old at the time, The New Republic 98.

And now eBay creator Pierre Omidyar has also struck. He has snatched up Glenn Greenwald. Greenwald is the Guardian journalist to whom whistleblower Edward Snowden handed over his documents on the methods of the American intelligence service NSA earlier this year. Greenwald and Snowden triggered a media earthquake that Omidyar probably felt as well. He has now recruited Greenwald to join his new, as yet unveiled media company.

It will be "financially very well endowed," Greenwald revealed in advance. The job, he said, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for him. A remarkable statement. After all, Greenwald hasn’t worked just anywhere so far – the Guardian plays in the top international league of journalism. Like Bezos, Omidyar wants to invest $250 million. He is driven by growing concerns about freedom of the press. So will only the patrons manage to preserve classic journalism? How independent can a journalist still be who is dependent on the whim of a single super-rich person? Supposed altruism arouses suspicion.

But a journalist working for Bezos or Omidyar is no less independent than one working for a traditional publisher. After all, how free are the big daily newspapers when it comes to reporting on their big advertisers Aldi, Lidl and others?

The lout salesman

Media analyst Doctor is on the podium at the Munich Media Days. There he introduces the "Publishing Summit" – a discussion about the future of journalism. The newspaper industry has lost 39 percent in revenue worldwide since 2007 – a drop of $51 billion. So the newspaper industry is lucky that Bezos, Omidyar and Hughes are getting in. Here in Germany, a Cherno Jobatey says on stage in Munich that his editor’s job at the online portal Huffington Post is to spread good cheer. And the day before, the publisher of the Munich newspaper publishing house (Munchner Merkur, tz), Dirk Ippen, slips out a telling sentence: "Young people are a big problem."

It’s to be expected that Bezos is more likely to be able to sell something to these louts who hang out on the Internet, thereby bringing in enough money to possibly end up paying more than just 15 people – as at the German Huffington Post. They’re still looking for people, by the way. When Jobatey asked Welt editor-in-chief Jan-Eric Peters if he wanted to join, he said: "Then I’d rather die with dignity."

But what does New Economy man Bezos see in a ship like the Washington Post that is supposedly already scrapped? In the supposedly finished model newspaper? Four things, says Ken Doctor: an enduring brand, great metropolitan penetration, hundreds of thousands of paying customers, and a rich treasure trove of information. Making something out of it "is simple for him," says Doctor. At its core, the researcher is always concerned with this issue: What else can I sell? Doctor sees a "golden age" coming for the media, but a large part of it is based on financing journalism with other businesses.

And for all those who, like Welt boss Peters, have no desire to "sell mattresses," Doctor also has some impressively simple advice ready: "Know better, tell it better – and find someone who will pay you to tell it."